Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Must-See: Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold is one extraordinarily fine movie. Whether you're an artist or not, the true story about the return of Gustav Klimt's world famous masterpiece to its rightful owner decades after it was seized by the Nazis is as compelling as it is poignant.

Helen Mirren's performance as Maria Altman, an aging Austrian ex-pat living in L.A. and the painting's rightful heir, is nothing short of stellar. Also stellar is the performance of Ryan Reynolds who plays her young and very green but persistent attorney. Together, they take their fight to reclaim the painting from the Austrian government all the way to and through the U.S. Supreme Court and, ultimately, Austria's virtually impossible-to-access Restitution Committee. At every step, Austrian officials with far deeper pockets are equally determined to thwart them.

The painting is valued at $135 million, but Altman isn't interested in it for the money. She wants it back to regain a precious connection to her family, most of whom were annihilated by the Nazis following the Nazis' confiscation of the family's extensive art collection, jewelry and household possessions. For Maria, the Klimt painting is intensely personal and meaningful because it's the portrait of her beloved aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, who helped raise Maria.

Amidst the mindless dross that characterizes so many films today, Woman in Gold stands out like a brilliant diamond. There are no stupid car explosions, nor sex scenes, nor endless gratuitous expletives in this film. (The f-word is used just once, I believe, by Reynold's character during an emotionally charged outburst.)

Is there violence? Absolutely, but not in the typically gory fashion you might expect. Instead, the violence wrought is the mental and emotional violence the Nazis subjected Austria's Jewish population to in their arrogance and deliberate cruelty. It's the terror they incited with their midnight arrests, property confiscations, and "removals" of thousands of innocent men, women and children to Nazi death camps, where they exterminated six million of them.

There are still an estimated 100,000 pieces of art that were unlawfully seized by the Nazis during World War II which, to this day, have yet to be returned to their rightful owners. Many are sitting in museums which are unwilling to relinquish them. These works are stolen property and as such they should be returned to the original owners or their rightful heirs. No matter how important the works may be to the institutions' collections or their countries' tourism industries. To do anything else but give them back is a disgrace.

I wanted to see Woman in Gold because Klimt's magnificent painting, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, has always been my most favorite work of art. The movie about it exceeded all my expectations.

Today, the painting hangs in the Neue Gallery in New York, by special arrangement with Maria Altman, now deceased. I think we all owe Maria a debt of gratitude for fighting so hard for what was right. In her case, justice was hard won, but it finally prevailed.

©2015 Lynn Edwards

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